Widespread biological response to recent rapid warming on the Antarctic Peninsula

Recent climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula is well documented [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], with warming, alongside increases in precipitation, wind strength, and melt season length [1, 6, 7], driving environmental change [8, 9]. However, meteorological records mostly began in the 1950s, and paleoenvironmental datasets that provide a longer-term context to recent climate change are limited in number and often from single sites [7] and/or discontinuous in time [10 , 11]. Here we use moss bank cores from a 600-km transect from Green Island (65.3°S) to Elephant Island (61.1°S) as paleoclimate archives sensitive to regional temperature change, moderated by water availability and surface microclimate [12, 13]. Mosses grow slowly, but cold temperatures minimize decomposition, facilitating multi-proxy analysis of preserved peat [14]. Carbon isotope discrimination (Δ13C) in cellulose indicates the favorability of conditions for photosynthesis [15]. Testate amoebae are representative heterotrophs in peatlands [16, 17 , 18], so their populations are an indicator of microbial productivity [14]. Moss growth and mass accumulation rates represent the balance between growth and decomposition [19]. Analyzing these proxies in five cores at three sites over 150 years reveals increased biological activity over the past ca. 50 years, in response to climate change. We identified significant changepoints in all sites and proxies, suggesting fundamental and widespread changes in the terrestrial biosphere. The regional sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises suggests that terrestrial ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region—an Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic [20].

Details

Publication status:
Published
Author(s):
Authors: Amesbury, Matthew J., Roland, Thomas P., Royles, Jessica, Hodgson, Dominic A., Convey, Peter, Griffiths, Howard, Charman, Dan J.

On this site: Dominic Hodgson, Peter Convey
Date:
5 June, 2017
Journal/Source:
Current Biology / 27
Page(s):
1616-1622
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.04.034